Stardust Critical Review
In-depth or Faster-Pace in Stardust
Stardust is a coming-of-age tale about Tristran Thorne, who to prove his love to a girl by crossing into a new world and bring back a shooting star. During the course of the plot, he finds his true love, his self-confidence, and where he belongs. Neil Gaiman’s book has been adapted into a screenplay by writers Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn. As many know, there will be differences between the book and the movie, when Goldman and Vaughn adapted Stardust to film; they sacrificed some of the clarity the book provided for scenes with higher tension.
The sacrifice can be seen immediately. Seconds within the movie, the voice over narrator mentions a boy sending a letter to ask a question.
Our story really begins here, 150 years ago at the Royal Academy of Science in London, England, where a letter arrived, containing a very strange inquiry. It had come from a country boy and the scientist who read it thought it might be a practical joke of some kind. But he duly wrote a reply politely explaining that the query was nonsense. And posted it to the boy who lived in a village called Wall, so named, the boy had said, for the wall that ran alongside it–a wall that, according to local folklore, hid an extraordinary secret.
However, seemingly unsatisfied with the answer he receives, the boy, Dunstan, decides to investigate and cross the wall that borders his town. Here the book and movie converge, because Dunstan meets a girl later identified as Una, and nine months later Tristran, the hero, is born and left in Dunstan’s care. Although viewers are okay with the vague explanation as to how and why they met, better clarity is found in the book.
In the novel, there is a sort of festival on both sides of the wall that occurs every nine years. During this festival, Dustan crosses over the wall, doing so is forbidden any other time. While checking out the various stalls, looking for a gift for his soon-to-be fiancée, he meets Una. Instead of revealing this, which would have required a decent amount of set-up time, Goodman and Vaughn use a single vague explanation to get the story started quicker.
In the book, Tristran encounters, Charmed, a hairy but extremely fast creature in the woods after managing to get over the wall. They become traveling companions for a while, looking out for each other and sharing what they have. At one point, Tristran saves both their lives by instinctively knowing where a trail is. This instinct is brought up in conversation:
“Where’s the village of Wall?” he asked. Tristran pointed. “Where are the Debatable Hills?” Tristran pointed once more without hesitation. “Where’s the Catavarian Isles? Tristran pointed to the southwest. He had not known there were Debatable Hills, or Catalvarian Isles until the little man had mentioned them, but he was as certain in himself of their location as he was of the whereabouts of his own left foot or the nose on his face.” 114-15
Readers infer from the conversation that Tristran can instinctively tell where he’s going so long as he’s in the land of fairy thanks to his mother. Nothing like this happens in the movie. In the movie, Tristran lights a Babylon candle—a gift from his mother—in his father’s attic. He’s engulfed by light and lands on the star he seeks. The movie completely bypasses Charmed and Tristran’s interactions. However, the story moves on quicker for it. The only hint we get that Tristran is truly directionally challenged is a scene where Yvainequestions Tristran on how he knows they’re heading the right way.
Yvaine. Oh, right. So let me get this straight. You think you know we’re going the right way because… And I quote, “I just do.”
Tristran. I do, though. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my love for Victoria guiding me home.
The lines can easily be interpreted as part of the “Men insist they know where they’re going even when completely lost” trope. As both Yvaine and Tristran are foreigners, neither are able to have the in-depth conversation that Tristran and Charmed had.
In the movie, a unicorn appears after Tristran leaves Yvaine chained to a tree in the forest. It uses its horn to break the chain and carries Yvaine away. Audiences don’t question it because the scene takes place in a mystical forest and animals do not, traditionally, need a clear-cut motivation. The scene is short, simple and moves the plot along quickly.
However in the book, the unicorn is fighting a lion when Tristran and Yvaine first meet it. Tristran stops the fight, thereby saving the unicorn’s life, by presenting the lion with its crown. The unicorn than becomes Tristran’s and Yvaine’s traveling companion for a while. The scene gives the unicorn a motivation for helping Tristan and Yvaine that the movie lacks, outside the one Yvaine reveals. Unicorns are the Moon’s creatures, and, in the book, Yvaine is the moon’s daughter. The moon asked the unicorn to help Yvaine. As the movie demonstrates, the information isn’t necessary but the knowledge deepens the characters and the audiences understanding of the world.
Movie audiences demand a faster-paced movie, especially when they’re watching fantasy. Readers are more willing to enjoy a slower-paced story, so long as it holds attention. So it is understandable why Goodman and Vaughn would not keep exactly to the book when they adapted STARDUST into a screenplay. And, although Goodman and Vaughn removed details that would bring more insight and deepen the characters, they did not remove anything that devastated the plot. In fact, Vaughn and Goodman probably stayed closer to the actual storyline than Gaiman did. Seeing the differences between the book and the movie, in this case, is a great way to see how what you put in or take out of a story can affect how it reads. Whether one reads Gaiman’s more detailed story or one watches the fast-paced movie, either variation of the story is entertaining.
Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.
Stardust. Dir. Matthew Vaughn. Paramount Pictures, 10 August 2007. DVD.